“If I’d known I was about to meet the man who’d shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in.”
Lilac Girls is yet another story about the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany in World War II, but it’s one of the most compelling ones I’ve ever read (and I’ve read my fair share of WWII-centered novels). The story follows three women, Caroline, Kasia and Herta, through their very, very different experiences before, during and after the war.
Caroline Ferriday is a moderately wealthy, middle-aged woman living in New York and working tireless to help the people of France as Hitler’s power starts to gain traction in Europe.
Kasia Kuzmerick is a young Polish girl who got caught up in the communications underground, captured and sent to Hitler’s only female concentration camp, Ravensbruck.
Herta Oberhauser is an intelligent German woman whose dreams and aspirations of becoming a doctor and supporting her family got horribly twisted when she answered an ad for a government medical position.
As the conflicts boil over and the war starts raging, the women’s lives are irreversibly linked. Herta, or Dr. Oberhauser as she’s called at Ravensbruck, is the concentration camp’s head “doctor,” performing ghastly operations and experiments on the women of the camp. Kasia and a number of other Polish women were the unlucky subjects of Dr. Oberhauser’s experiments, forced to endure surgery upon horrible surgery in the name of “science.” These women, the women that Dr. Oberhauser experimented on, were given the nickname in Ravensbruck of “the Rabbits” because, among other things, the surgeries hindered their ability to walk, their gait now resembling something more similar to a bunny’s hop than a human stride. Eventually, long after the war ended, Caroline made it her mission to gather the resources to help the Rabbits, organizing medical procedures for them in America that would help eliminate the physical pain they’d been carrying around for so many years.
So that’s the gist of the story. And when I say that’s a very, VERY basic overview, I mean it. This story was so interwoven, so delicately sewed together, that there’s really no way to eloquently summarize it. I’d need a few hours (and a few glasses of wine) to even begin. This story… This story is incredible. It pulls at your heartstrings in ways that you don’t want it to and it opens your eyes to how remarkably different each person’s version of the war can be. And to how quickly everything can change.
It’s not a light read and it’s not always a fun read, but it’s an important read. I’d recommend this one a hundred times over. So go check it out. And when you’re done (and your heart has had a chance to recover), pick up The Nightingale and lose yourself all over again.